“They Really Conducted Themselves
Remarkably Well”: Canadian Soldiers and the
Great War, 1783 to 1815
by John R. Grodzinski
On October 26,1813, a force of 1,700 Canadians defeated an army of 3,764 Americans at the Battle of the Châteauguay, just southwest of Montreal in Lower Canada. As the Canadian defensive position was set in five successive lines, only those in the forward most positions, as well as a group farther to their south, across the Châteauguay River, totalling some 339 men, actually saw action against the vastly superior American Army. They were led by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry. A Canadian, he was, somewhat uniquely for the time, a professional soldier, and was once described as “le diable au corps.” The battle itself is noteworthy as it was the sole encounter during the War of 1812 where the Americans were defeated by an almost exclusively Canadian force. Problems in the American camp aside, the Canadian victory achieved operational success by stopping one of two American armies that invaded Canada during the fall of 1813 — the largest American operation of the war, aimed at capturing Montreal.2
The War of 1812 was the culmination of a complex period of AngloAmerican relations following the American War of Independence and British global operations during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The Americans, motivated perhaps more by pride than sound policy, sought to secure, and in some cases expand, their frontiers bordering British, Native, and Spanish colonies. The British, occupied in Europe and elsewhere, first considered North America as a sideshow, but by late 1814, dispatched a considerable portion of its army and naval forces to British North America.
To understand fully the British approach and the Canadian connection, it is important to examine the period from the end of the American Revolution, in 1783, to the end of the War of 1812, in 1815. Since Canada was a British colony, a colonial governor ruled the country, who received his instructions on foreign policy and defence matters